Events in Zimbabwe appear to be moving toward a head as pressure mounts on populist demagogue Robert Mugabes beleaguered Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) government. Mugabe, who spent a decade in prison during the 1960s and early 70s for his role in the 15-year guerrilla struggle against Ian Smiths white minority regime, easily won election in 1980 as Zimbabwes first president. He has remained president ever since.
Two decades ago Mugabe was praised by the Western media as a great statesman. The U.S. and Britain accorded considerable importance to Zimbabwes integration into the free world as a means of containing Soviet influence in a strategically important region. Mugabes officially Marxist-Leninist regime carefully honored the terms of the imperialist-brokered 1979 Lancaster House Agreement with Smiths rogue regime. These included safeguarding the lives and property of the white settlers and even agreeing to repay the debts run up by the white supremacists in waging their racist war. Mugabes patrons in London and Washington were less scrupulousa £750 million World Bank Zimbabwe Development Fund which was promised to rebuild the country never materialized.
Many things have changed in Zimbabwe since 1979. Mugabe, like Saddam Hussein, lost much of his value to the imperialists with the end of the Cold War. While brutal dictatorships were once prized as champions of the free world, they are now regarded as costly and inefficient anachronisms. In the post-Soviet era imperial control can be exercised more flexibly and cheaply through elections in which various sectors of the local elite compete for the job of implementing the requirements of the metropolitan transnationals.
Mugabes corrupt and discredited regime succeeded in Africanizing the neo-colonial state, but now appears to have run out its string. Zimbabwes economy is expected to shrink by ten percent this year. Fifty-five percent of the workforce is unemployed and inflation is over 60 percent and rising as the government desperately attempts to cover shortfalls by printing money. During the past several years popular opposition to ZANU has mushroomed. It is spearheaded by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an unnatural alliance of black trade unionists and white capitalists actively backed by Britain and the U.S.
Eternal Suffering for African People
Mugabe is still spouting anti-imperialist rhetoric and is one of the International Monetary Funds most virulent Third World critics, despite his record of routinely bowing to its dictates at home. In 1991 ZANU accepted an IMF Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAPpopularly dubbed Eternal Suffering for African People). Advertised as a sure path to economic development and rising living standards, the IMFs prescriptions are in reality designed to integrate the economies of the neo-colonies into a global division of labor on terms favorable to the banks and multi-national corporations of the developed world.
Zimbabwes IMF restructuring involved privatization of state-owned enterprises (parastatals), lowering corporate and luxury taxes, slashing social spending and removing tariff protection for local manufacturers in order to reorient the economy to the production of a narrow range of export goods. This represented a particularly significant turn for Zimbabwes relatively advanced manufacturing sector which, when faced with international sanctions in the mid-1960s:
In Zimbabwe, as in every other neo-colony the IMF has restructured, increasing the supply of a few export commodities has tended to depress their prices, while simultaneously deepening the countrys dependency on imperialist finance, increasing social inequality and reducing living standards for the majority. Under ESAP the volume of manufacturing output dropped 40 percent between 1991 and 1995 as real wages also fell:
Tax cuts for the wealthy reduced government revenues which produced a rapid rise in the national debt. Mugabe attempted to counter this by slashing public sector spending, which sharply reduced access to healthcare and education (two areas that ZANU had expanded considerably in the early 1980s). Healthcare spending per capita fell 37 percent between 1990 and 1994 while the proportion of the population infected with HIV has soared from 10 percent in 1990 to 25 percent today.
John Peck provided the following summary of the effects of ESAP:
The powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), previously tightly linked to ZANU, emerged as a major political factor in the mid-1990s when the national leadership lost control of their base as waves of increasingly militant strikes swept the country, culminating in a five-day stayaway (general strike) in 1998. The regime initially reacted with brutal police repression, but failed to reestablish control. Faced with growing broad-based popular opposition, Mugabe tacked to the left, imposing price controls on basic food items, raising taxes on luxury imports and forcing businesses to convert their foreign exchange holdings into Zimbabwean dollars. This enraged the IMF, and in November 1999, it sought to destabilize the regime by abruptly suspending all credits, a move soon followed by all the big international banks.
Mugabe had also offended the imperialist godfathers by intervening in the Congo to back Laurent-Désiré Kabilas regime against rebel insurgents. In exchange for this support (which to date has cost Zimbabwe an estimated US$200 million and involved a third of its armed forces) Kabila gave valuable diamond mining concessions to several companies controlled by ZANU ministers and senior military officers (Africa-Confidential, 26 May 2000).
Mugabe Plays the Land Card
In February 2000, Mugabe attempted to strengthen his grip on power with a referendum on a constitutional reform package that included measures to extend his presidency by a decade, allow him to dissolve parliament and ban strikes, and guarantee that members of his entourage would have immunity from future legal prosecution. When it became clear that he was headed toward defeat, Mugabe added a provision for distributing white farmland to landless blacks.
Prior to the British conquest, the indigenous black tribes had over half a million acres under cultivation. In 1890 Cecil Rhodes organized the invasion of the territory now known as Zimbabwe by the British South Africa Company, and by 1902, after crushing native resistance, three-quarters of the best agricultural land had been legally expropriated by whites. Today their descendants employ 250,000 black workers on 4,000-odd commercial farms whose produce (chiefly tobacco) accounts for 40 percent of Zimbabwes annual export earnings. The millions of land-hungry blacks whose ancestors were driven onto tiny plots in the least fertile and driest regions of the country are left to try to eke out a miserable existence as subsistence farmers.
The issue of access to land remains of vital concern to millions of rural blacks, but Mugabes ploy failed because his record of repeatedly breaking similar promises in the past had sapped his credibility with his traditional peasant base. They were well aware that almost all the good land redistributed by ZANU in its 20 years in power had gone to Mugabes cronies. The referendum results were a humiliating defeat for the government and a huge boost to the opposition.
To regain its base in the countryside ZANU sponsored a series of invasions of white-owned commercial farms. Within weeks of the referendum 1,000 estates were occupied by squatters led by members of the National Liberation War Veterans Association and ZANUs youth brigade. The Movement for Democratic Change immediately condemned these actions and pledged to respect the rule of law and respect private property. This provided Mugabe with the issue he needed to regain enough support to win a narrow victory in Junes parliamentary elections. The MDC swept the cities, but ZANU held onto the countryside and retained its majority in parliament.
Mugabes threats to expropriate the lands of the white colons (whose grandparents stole it in the first place) were entirely motivated by political expediency. But this did not make them any less alarming for imperialist strategists in London and Washington, who fear that expropriations in Zimbabwe could touch off a similar movement in South Africa (where polls showed support for the land invasions to be higher than in Zimbabwe itself). The reappropriation of land could soon spread to mines and other capitalist property throughout the region.
Rise of the MDC
Perhaps the single most important development in Zimbabwean politics in the past several years has been the white bourgeoisies success in controlling the groundswell of popular opposition to the regime touched off by the wave of union struggles in the mid-1990s. Munyaradzi Gwisai, a leading member of Zimbabwes International Socialist Organisation (ISOaffiliated with the late Tony Cliffs Socialist Workers Party in Britain [SWP/B]), described how this occurred. In reviewing the rise of mass struggles in the 1990s, he explained that the MDC was created as an alternative to a workers party:
Gwisai described the role of the petty-bourgeois NCA as the core of what was to become the MDC:
The ISO was banned from the February 1999 Working Peoples Convention held to organize the developing national political opposition:
Yet, when the MDC was launched in September 1999, the working-class activists were pushed aside:
By the time of its founding congress in January 2000, the MDC claimed a million membersalmost ten percent of Zimbabwes population. While the MDC membership is overwhelmingly black and working class, its leadership is effectively controlled by white commercial farmers and business people. Tsvangirai is the MDCs president, while a former ISO leader, Tendai Biti, is the official MDC spokesperson on the land question. It is his job to put a progressive spin on the defense of the privileges of the white landowners.
Eddie Cross of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, the MDCs Secretary of Economic Affairs, gets credit for the MDC Privatisation & Outsourcing Policy for Zimbabwe, which spells out how an MDC government would, ensure completion of the restructuring and privatisation of parastatals within 24 months. While promising new opportunities for Zimbabwean entrepreneurs the statement also makes it clear that, foreign strategic investors will be encouraged to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatised. As a sop to the ZCTU brass, a proposal is also floated to help trade unions to buy stakes in privatised companies.
CPGB: Reinventing Menshevism
Gwisai ran on the MDC ticket in Highfield, a working-class suburb of Harare (Zimbabwes capital) and a traditional stronghold for radical black nationalist sentiment. He won 73 percent of the vote (a figure matched by many other MDC candidates in Harare). Gwisai is the first member of the International Socialist tendency to be elected to national office anywhere. Yet, in an implicit acknowledgement that the victory was badly tainted, the ISOs mentors in the SWP/B were remarkably reserved about their comrades spectacular electoral success.
Others on the left were less circumspect. The penny-ante popular frontists of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), for example, who are currently snuggling up to the British Cliffites in the Socialist Alliance electoral bloc, proclaimed:
While conceding that the MDCs program is oriented towards international capital, the CPGB tailists nonetheless insist:
Readers of Weekly Worker disturbed by the thought of politically backing the party of the white bourgeoisie wont find much solace in the CPGBs critical figleaf. A vote is a vote and, for the moment, Zimbabwes white elite welcomes the support of any and all revolutionary muddleheads.
In the extremely volatile and potentially revolutionary situation existing today in Zimbabwe, the Little England reformists of the CPGB are inordinately concerned with tinkering with the constitutional mechanisms of neo-colonial rule:
The CPGBs chief propagandist on the question went so far as to explicitly oppose demands for expropriating bourgeois property in Zimbabwe, arguing:
The key productive forces in every capitalist country depend, to one extent or another, on international inputs. British industry, for example, is entirely dependent on elements that are physically located outside the country. And British capitalists would certainly make every effort to remove their assets if they feared expropriation. What conclusions does the CPGB draw from that?
To the Leninist program of expropriation, the CPGB cretins counterpose a social-democratic fantasy in which Zimbabwes embattled workers somehow obtain lasting control of capitalist production:
The Mensheviks issued similar warnings to the Russian workers in 1917, explaining that if they followed the wicked Bolsheviks and expropriated the capitalists, the result would be economic catastrophe.
Horses and Riders
Leon Trotsky once compared a bloc between workers and capitalists to that between a horse and rider. There is certainly no question about who is riding whom in the MDC. The white capitalists are happy to participate in a party fronted by black trade-union officials, with the revolutionaries of the ISO tagging along behind, because they want to use the power of black labor as a battering ram to bring down Mugabe. Once ZANU is out of the way and the bourgeoisie and their allies have secured their grip on the army and police, they will then be in a position to crush the unions at will.
The presence of the top trade-union bureaucrats in the leadership of the MDC helps reassure the rank and file that its blatantly Thatcherite class program will somehow work to their advantage. The revolutionary ISO, in turn, provides left cover for the ZCTU bureaucrats, who can point to the presence of Marxists on the MDC ticket as evidence that it cannot be so right-wing after all.
Initially the Cliffites tried to skirt the issue of the MDCs class character by talking vaguely of it as a movement of anti-Mugabe activists based on the unions:
To keep a bit of political distance from this mass opposition, Socialist Worker included a few observations by a Zimbabwean ISO member:
An accompanying article entitled Which way for Zimbabwes working class? maintained the same studied naiveté toward the MDC:
In fact it is leading them toward a crushing defeat, something Socialist Worker deliberately seeks to obscure. Alex Callinicos, who runs much of the SWP/Bs international work, published an article a few days prior to the June election which entirely ignored Gwisais candidacy and characterized the MDC as, a coalition that cuts across the lines of both class and racefrom white bosses and farmers...to the trade unionists of ZCTU. He observed that the MDC had promised to implement an IMF dictated emergency programme, and noted the devastating effect of earlier IMF reforms, but nevertheless concluded that, the best outcome this weekend would be an MDC victory (Socialist Worker, 24 June 2000).
In its post-election analysis, Socialist Worker blandly observed that the MDCs economic policy favoured the bosses, and suggested:
If pigs could fly! Socialist Worker also marvelled that:
The MDC is entirely bourgeois, a reality that Gwisai and the MDCs various other leftist publicists studiously ignore. Instead they imagine (or pretend to imagine) that this capitalist political machine may someday, somehow, turn itself into a vehicle for socialism. The bourgeoisie cannot be tricked, pressured or talked into acting against their own class interests, as the Cliffites well know. In fact the ISO and their mentors in the SWP/B leadership suffer from a different, but related, illusionthe belief that they have major opportunities to use the MDC, as Gwisai explained in an interview with the Weekly Worker. Joining the MDC, he said, would enable the ISO:
The ISOs activity will indeed influence events, but not as they imagine. By helping to channel the anger of Zimbabwes black workers at Mugabe into support for the white colons, the ISO is paving the way for reaction. The glib renunciation of the first principle of socialismthe necessity for the political independence of the working classin order to stay relevant and grow demonstrates once again the abyss that separates the International Socialist tendency from the Trotskyist tradition they claim.
From KMT to MDC: Class-Collaboration Means Defeat
The ISOs participation in the MDC is a replay of the Chinese Communist Partys disastrous entry in the bourgeois Kuomintang (KMT) in the 1920s, a critical issue in the struggle led by Leon Trotsky against the Stalinist corruption of the Communist International. Trotskys description of the bloc of the Chinese Communists with the bourgeois Kuomintang at the Eighth Plenum of the Comintern Executive (ECCI) in May 1927 is entirely applicable to the ISOs dalliance with the MDC:
While Alex Callinicos et al, following Stalin, imagine that class-collaborationism offers a shortcut to mass influence, Trotsky described it as literally suicidal:
Gwisai explained the ISOs reason for running on the MDC slate:
Trotsky categorically rejected such notions:
Instead of liquidating into the bourgeois KMT, Trotsky called for a complete break with it and a program of hard class struggle:
The ISO talks about eventually building a revolutionary alternative to the MDC, but clearly intends to go along for the ride as long as possible. Gwisai told the Weekly Worker: Workers feel good about the elections, but the MDC did not win and so the pressure to deliver will not be so high. He also speculated: There will be presidential elections in 2002, which will tend to hold the party [i.e., the MDC] together.
The ISO recognizes that sooner or later the MDC must break apart, and when it inevitably does, they will doubtless claim to have anticipated such a development. But their practical activity is not oriented toward a break with the bourgeoisie, but rather celebrates the breadth of the anti-Mugabe movement. In this it is exactly counterposed to:
The Cliffites orientation to the MDC derives from an entirely different tradition:
But the strategy of political adaptation to the progressive wing of the capitalists is fatal for the working class:
In truth the Cliffites current policy in Zimbabwe is in many senses worse than Stalins in China in the 1920s. For one thing, the KMT stood quantitatively to the left of the imperialist-backed warlords, while the MDC is clearly positioned to the right of ZANU. In China, the working class, while strategically important, constituted only a tiny percentage of the population; but in Zimbabwe today the working class has immensely more social weight, and almost half the population lives in urban areas. Finally, events in China were historically unprecedented. It was only on the basis of this historical experience that Trotsky concluded:
The Road to Victory
Both ZANU and the MDC are enemies of Zimbabwes embattled workers and peasants. The cynicism of Mugabes leftist posturing is clearly exposed by the record of his two decades in power, while the MDC, for its part, is eager to assume the role of taskmaster for the IMF. For Zimbabwes poor and working peopleboth urban and ruralthe only chance for a decent life lies through the expropriation of the capitalist parasites.
A key objective for revolutionaries must be to break workers illusions in the nationalist demagogy of ZANU and the democratic austerity preached by the bourgeois MDC. Only a revolutionary workers party committed to a program of uprooting the whole system of neo-colonialism and capitalist exploitation can open a road forward. A key element in this strategy must be to break Mugabes grip on his plebeian base by championing the interests of rural proletarians, poor peasants and the unemployed.
Victory cannot be guaranteed, but defeat is certain with the ISOs policy of class-collaboration. While claiming the mantle of Lenin and Trotsky, the ISO, in fact, stands in the tradition of the socialism of the right wing of the Second Internationalthe French possibilists, Millerand and Bernstein. Like their opportunist forbearers, the Cliffites are hypnotized by the reality of a movement with hundreds of thousands of members, a big apparatus and deputies in parliament. They fear that making any serious criticism of the MDC risks alienating the masses who follow it. So the ISO opts for a policy of passive adaptation to the illusions of the workers, covered by paeans to the beauties of the glorious socialist future and declarations of abstract fidelity to a revolutionary tradition they clearly do not consider to be of any practical value.
In Zimbabwe today, as in China three-quarters of a century ago, genuine Marxists are distinguished by their irreconcilable hostility to all wings of the capitalist class:
The policy of political subordination to the MDC is exactly counterposed to this. Whatever the subjective intent of the ISO cadres, the path they have chosen can only deepen the division between rural and urban workers, shore up Mugabes grip on the land-hungry peasantry and set up the unions for destruction. Trotskys critique of the Stalinized Chinese Communist Party of the late 1920s is fully applicable to the International Socialist Tendency today:
The possibility of an outbreak of revolutionary struggle has been acutely posed in Zimbabwe for several years now. The precipitous fall in living standards has deeply discredited both the IMF/MDC austerity programs and the demagogic anti-imperialism of the Mugabe regime. Millions of working people have learned, through participating in mass struggles, that collectively they can wield immense social power. A revolutionary explosion in Zimbabwe could immediately spread to South Africa and reverberate around the world.
Every precondition for a revolutionary breakthrough is present, save onethe existence of a nucleus of cadres committed to directing the anger of the masses toward the expropriation of their oppressors. Such a leadership can only be created through hard political struggle against all those who advocate the tactic of helping the white planters slip a noose around the neck of the black proletariat.